This week I presented a webinar with (the amazing) Jane Friedman, and in the Q&A, someone asked about how to get the attention of readers and influential people who reach them. Today I want to answer that question, and share practical ways you can do this for yourself.
The topic I have been enamored with this month as I shared my book with the world is this:
Generosity is a magic wand.
The most important aspect of this that each of us has that magic wand. The only questions are:
- If we use it.
- How we use it.
So let’s take this apart piece by piece, and dig into specific ways you can truly stand out in the marketplace via generosity.
(Note: Below I’m going to share some specific examples I have experienced recently to show what this looks like in real life. None of this is intentionally meant to promote my book, so I’m going to be careful to not link to my book in this post. I simply want to show you practical real life examples.)
Books are Magic
When their local bookstore announced they were shutting down Emma Straub and Michael Fusco-Straub decided:
“A neighborhood without an independent bookstore is a body without a heart. And so we’re building a new heart.”
What are they calling their bookstore? This: “Books are Magic.”
I mean, they have pens!
And I have to agree with them. One of the most surprising aspects of releasing a book is the regard in which people hold books. In the past 12 years, I have shared:
- More than 500 email newsletters
- More than 1,000 blog posts
- More than 24,000 Tweets
But none of that prepared me for how people react to a book. For instance, here is a woman I went to elementary school with, who bought my book:
And the comment beneath it? Someone else I went to elementary school with. This totally blew me away. That they went out and bought the book, and that they took the initiative to be so supportive via social media.
But even that could’t prepare me for the generous words that Writer Unboxed’s own Don Maass shared on Facebook. Again and again, I am receiving kind emails or heartfelt words from people who buying and reading the book.
A book has this uncanny ability to focus people. They simply love books. Last week I was meeting friends at our local chicken place and we were chatting with the woman behind the counter. She mentioned that she was a musician, so I gave her a copy of my book. She was just so excited to receive it, and when I went in the next week (this chicken place is amazing, by the way), she told me she is already midway through reading it.
I just couldn’t believe how much enthusiasm this simple connection created.
Books connect us. Both to each other and what we hope to create. After spending months writing the book at Starbucks, it was fun to finally share the finished product with some of the wonderful baristas who were there with me hour by hour:
I have spent countless hours with them, but it wasn’t until I shared the book with them that I began learning more about their own creative vision, their own art, their own connection to the world through their creative work.
Again and again this month, people have gone out of their way to support me in ways I never expected:
- An author I know bought 10 copies of my book in order to run a workshop based on it (that she is creating) with writers local to her.
- Kate Tilton decided to buy 10 copies and gave them away to her audience.
- Jennie Nash did two interactive calls with her audience on the topic of the book, which was 100% focused on engagement with dozens and dozens of writers.
There was so much more, this is just the tip of the iceberg. Every single action someone took was surprising, and made me feel completely grateful to them.
Generosity Both Amazes and Scares Us
Not long ago, I overheard a conversation at Starbucks. The woman told a friend how someone two people ahead of them in line paid for the coffee for the person behind them. Both of these people were strangers to each other.
The woman telling the story was in complete shock at the act of generosity. She concluded:
“It restored my faith in humanity.”
The conversation went on for awhile, she couldn’t get over the fact that she witnessed this, and how wonderful it was.
What I couldn’t help but consider is: now that she has felt the power of this act of generosity, will she spend the $4 to do this for someone else? Will she make a habit of trading $4 to restore someone else’s faith in humanity?
I’m not judging her with this, she is under zero “requirement” to do this. She is still a wonderful person regardless. But it had me considering: what holds each of us back from being more generous, if we know it can be easy to do, and life-changing to someone else? Like, why don’t I set a budget for $4 per week so that 52 times per year, I can restore someone’s faith in humanity, make their day, and ensure that they go to work ready to gush to their co-workers about what happened at Starbucks that morning?
The answer is more complex than a budget of $200 per year. It requires taking a risk each week to make the offer, to explain it to the cashier, to wait to see how the person reacts. For instance, have you ever seen that complex dance that happens when you go out to a small group meal, and one person offers to pay? Others grab the check back and say “No, I’m going to pay,” and then someone negotiates, “But you paid last time,” and then someone else suggests that you split the bill, and someone else makes note that they should pay more because they had a fancy drink.
It’s a mess.
I think that sometimes we don’t take the time to be more generous is simply because many people have their own version of social fears and insecurities. We aren’t suave around strangers, and we have an easier time envisioning what could go wrong in buying a $4 drink for someone else, than what could go right.
Be Insanely Generous, Instead of Insanely Promotional
Despite this, for writers and creative professionals who want to share their work with the world, my conclusion is: be insanely generous, not insanely promotional. For instance, I remember stories of David Sedaris’ generosity with fans:
“Last night in Huntsville, Alabama, I signed books for eight hours.”
“The line continued for around three hours, and Sedaris remained until the last book was signed, often making a quick personal sketch in a book or guessing the guest’s horoscope.”
Q: Do you see a lot of teenagers at your shows?
David Sedaris: “Yeah, I do, and I always have gifts for them because I’m always so honored that they come. If I run out of gifts, I give them money.”
I read so many “best practices” about how authors can sell more books via “influencer marketing” or by some short-term price reduction or something else. All of these are fine tactics. But…
This month I have been considering how generosity can connect an author to readers. And readers to books.
Put It All On the Table
An author in a mastermind group that I run, Laraine Herring, found out that she had cancer in February. In writing about her cancer diagnosis, she wrote:
“I have spent most of my life working on grief and loss and transitions in academics, in practice, and in art. My first thought after I received the news was that this will transition into some fantastic art. It will give me the next layer of my teaching and my writing. It will forge my soul into its next thing, and what I learn I can bring back to others through my books and classes.”
In the Mastermind, she shared this:
“My goal for the Mastermind was to find and claim a greater reach, and this cancer diagnosis has done that. I have had to put it all on the table. Right before the surgery, I put one of my on demand classes for free and offered it as part of my #cancergift. I thought I might die (not a great chance, but possible) and I realized I didn’t want to leave anything behind. I wanted to offer it all.”
That phrase, “I have had to put it all on the table” keeps ringing in my head. It has me considering: with my creative work, how am I putting it all on the table? How am I not holding back because of fear, or a justification that I simply don’t have the time?
That is what I am challenging myself to consider.
What I Have Learned in This Process
The experience of the last month has taught me so much. Mostly this: take small actions to support others more frequently. I have been reflecting on my own failings here.
- Why on earth didn’t I review Don Maass’s latest book on Amazon when it came out? Even though I’m not a novelist, look at how he frames the purpose of his book: “I want to feel more when I read. Don’t you?” I need to do more to support this vision.
- Couldn’t I have done so much more to promote the Writer Unboxed book when it came out? Besides having written a chapter in it, I have seen the power of the community behind this book.
- Why does it take me releasing a book to ask the woman behind the counter about her creative work and her goals? How can I make that a daily practice: supporting those around me, even if only by asking about what they care most about? How can I brighten someone’s day with the smallest action, question, or compliment? Sure, it can be a $4 cup of coffee, but it can also simply be curiosity about who they are.
- For friend and colleagues, how can I go out of my way to better support the things they care most about?
These are not obligations, they are opportunities. And I need to act on them more frequently. This month I have experienced the magic of generosity, and how the effect of its power can be life-changing.
What can you do — today — to wield your magic wand of generosity?